Music is arguably the most powerful art form in existence. Between the myriad emotions it can evoke from you and the vivid memories it can bring swirling back to the surface of your mind, it’s no wonder the therapeutic value of music has been studied and implemented for a variety of purposes. The notion that music can play a role in healing and altering behavior dates back millennia to the works of Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
With the physical, emotional and cognitive responses spurred by lyric, melody and rhythm, music has shown time and time again to be an essential aspect of memory care programs. According to Concetta Tomaino, executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and senior vice president for Music Therapy at CenterLight Health Systems, “We now know from clinical case studies that music can affect — in very specific ways — human neurological, psychological and physical functioning in areas such as learning, processing language, expressing emotion, memory and physiological and motor responses.”
Read on to learn why this is and how music therapy and appreciation have come to play a major role in designing memory care programs and how it can be helpful for those in assisted living communities.
One of the most beautiful things about music are the impeccably timed encounters you can experience through it. Do you remember that day, when you heard that song for the first time, right at that exact moment? Did it seem like every word was resonating from within you or like the song perfectly framed your world right then and there? For many people, it’s not just one song. Most individuals subconsciously carry multiple songs with them, each one like a snapshot of a particular experience or time period of their lives.
Music has a way of affecting people on this deep, evocative, emotional level. From sadness to joy, fear to hope, anger to love — music covers a vast and diverse range of emotional sensations and their various levels of passion and intensity. Because of this, music has been found to reduce stress and agitation in those dealing with the challenges of memory impairment and improve overall mood.
It’s no secret pop songs are designed to be catchy. Perhaps largely due to this fact, someone struggling with memory recall who may not have heard a song in almost 50 years can remember the lyrics and sing along at the drop of a hat.
However, it’s important to remember that memory care is often case by case, and everybody’s needs are different. When it comes to music, people are often a product of the time and place in which they grew up. Every recipient of any memory-related form of musical therapy should have their individual music tastes assessed and taken note of so they can listen to the music that soundtracked their life.
If a specific era or genre of music the enrollee likes is unknown, understanding their youth and background can also help guide the music selection. For example, someone who grew up in rural Texas in the late '50s and early '60s would probably have a greater connection with or reaction to the music of Johnny Cash than someone who graduated high school in New York City during World War II.
In addition to evoking emotion and memory, playing music for those struggling with memory impairment or loss can also bring about a physical response. These reactions can come in many forms, such as singing the words aloud with the song or dancing along in some fashion. While dancing may not be possible for some, even a simple tap of the foot and smile can be a positive indication of the impact music is having on them.
Albert Camus once said, "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." While caregiving can be one of the most meaningful and rewarding things one individual can do for another, certain aspects of caregiving can definitely present some challenging moments. Music can be a powerful bridge to help caregivers reach loved ones who find it difficult to verbally communicate.
The emotional stimulation and cognitive effects music can have upon the mind is profound. Even with their modern understanding of science and technology, gerontologists have only begun to scratch away at the tip of the iceberg of what music is capable of accomplishing when used as a tool for memory retrieval and retention in older adults.
It’s a universal language that seems to bind people together, a medium through which communication is still possible even when all other methods of communication seem to exhaust themselves. Without a doubt, it’s swiftly becoming a more and more crucial part of any effective memory care plan — and an avenue through which those struggling with memory impairment can reconnect with their younger selves.